Pakistan’s battle against the Taliban threatened to spiral out of control yesterday after Islamic militants extended their control in the lawless North West Frontier region.
Emboldened by an increasingly weakened and demoralised security force, Taliban fighters moved in to the outskirts of the provincial capital. Peshawar, surrounding the city and placing it virtually under siege.
Army troops have increased patrols in the garrison areas and paramilitary soldiers carrying machineguns are posted at government buildings. But senior security officials said that militants, who now control the region’s main arterial roads, were in a position to cut off communications at will — giving them the power to challenge the volatile state at any time.
Police on the city outskirts have long given up patrolling at night for fear of attacks by militants, who are organised under the banner of Tehrik-e-Taliban. Several officers have been killed in rocket attacks on police posts over the past few months. “It is a highly alarming situation,” said a senior provincial government official.
The Taliban raided the main government hospital in the heart of the city last week, kidnapping 16 Christians and taking them to the Khyber Agency tribal region outside Peshawar.
Although they were freed after a few hours, the incident heightened fears among non-Muslims.
The Khyber Agency, which is also the supply route for Nato forces in Afghanistan, has emerged as the new centre of Taliban attacks. Ambushes on convoys have become more frequent.
Yesterday, security forces said that they had found the bodies of 22 men who were captured by militants this week and were executed after summary trial. Taliban fighters also abducted and killed six thieves and kidnappers in the Orakzai area near Peshawar.